November 22, 2020
Jeremiah 36: 1-8, 21-23,27-28; 31: 31-34
Christ the King Sunday
Last week, we heard the story from Isaiah about God’s call to the people to return to a faith-filled life that was in keeping with God’s call to serve and to love.
At a time when the people feared of being conquered and enslaved by the Assyrians, Isaiah dreams of God and of having his sins botted out … of having his heart freed so that he can better hear God’s call.
And being able to hear the call, allowed Isaiah to step forward and answer it.
God … through the prophet Isaiah … called on the people to repent their ways … be forgiven … and return to a loving, neighbour-oriented way of life.
Now, 200 years later, God makes the same call through Jeremiah and his scribe Baruch.
By the time we get to Jeremiah today, the Babylonians and not the Assyrians have become the focus of the people’s fears.
Before today’s passage, Jehoiakim’s father … King Josiah … was the last faithful king in Jerusalem.
Josiah took down idols and restored the Temple, pointing the people to God’s presence and God’s commandments.
After he was killed in battle, his son, Jehoiakim, took his place.
He not only encouraged a return to idol-worship, he also maintained his own lifestyle and his position by force, sometimes taking lives, other times taking resources from the people of the land, all for his own personal safety and glory.
Like Isaiah two centuries earlier, Jeremiah spoke out against this practice, and insisted that following God’s law involved not only correct worship — which wasn’t happening anyway — but also advocated actions like caring for the poor, honouring the land, and shepherding the people in peace rather than taking advantage of them for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful.
Jeremiah found himself banished from the Temple, and eventually imprisoned for preaching such a revolutionary message.
This is why Baruch had to deliver the message in this morning’s reading.
Four years into Jehoiakim’s reign, the Babylonian army swept through the region and defeated all the other nations, including Egypt and its army.
At that point, Jehoiakim paid the Babylonian king to save Jerusalem … and himself.
The king raided the Temple and sent its gold and furnishings to Nebuchadnezzar, and gave the Babylonian ruler members of the royal family as hostages.
But the relationship has soured … there is a revolt and the Babylonians are now at Jerusalem’s doorstep.
Jerusalem was under siege. If the walls gave out, the people could be slaughtered … or they could be carried off into captivity to live as slaves … or scattered across the region and isolated from their families and familiar communities.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, God again calls on the people to realign their lives.
As danger surrounds the city, God is persistent in calling the people back from the edge.
God … through Jeremiah and Baruch … warns the king and the people of what dangers will come in the days ahead and offers a new deal … a new covenant … to the people.
Jeremiah is instructed to write down God’s words on a scroll and take them to the Temple and have them read so the people can hear them … recognize the path they are on leads to destruction … reset their lives … and be forgiven.
And strangely enough <sarcasm> … the religious and political powers that be want no part of it … in fact the king wants all mention of this promise erased from the world.
To those with power, it’s just fake news.
The new deal promises to include all people who recognize their sins … regardless of their social status or what region they live in; it brings its focus on God’s teachings rather than on the world’s expectations; and it promises a different, more intimate relationship between God and the people … it promises that the Lord will know each of them by name.
It is a covenant that is sealed by God’s love.
It’s no wonder that the powerful, oppressive forces do not want hear this promise or want anyone else to hear it for that matter. For them, the status quo … regardless of where it leads … needs to be maintained at any cost for as long as possible.
The king slices the scroll and burns the parchment … orders that the prophet and his scribe be arrested and eliminated … SPOILER ALERT … don’t worry … God watches over them.
This must be a pretty scary message for Jehoiakim and his entourage to hear.
Just imagined how threatened the king and the other power brokers must have felt by the thought that the people would embrace a new approach … a new way of life … a new way that didn’t include them at the top of the heap calling the shots.
God … through the prophet and his scribe … offers the people another chance … a chance to become attuned to God’s expectations. It’s a chance to be saved … a chance to embrace a new life.
To be forgiven and loved … to know that even though we frequently fall short of God’s expectations … we are still loved … unconditionally … offers a message of hope in an uncertain time.
And we are reminded of the hope-filled life offered by the covenant in today’s passage from Luke’s gospel and we are reminded each Sunday when we gather around the table and hear the words … ‘do this in remembrance of me.”
These are words of faith that call us to remember the grace we have received and the grace we are called to share.
In one of his sermons on teaching the truth of the Gospel, Martin Luther wrote that such teaching can only be accomplished through the heart, mouth and writing and that self-interest gets in the way.
Luther wrote that self-interest “… does not listen to words, nor to what is written nor to illumination … it suppresses and burns writing and books; it prohibits, silences, and condemns spoken words; it chases away and kills illumination together with the prophets.”
Self-interest may create challenges, but it doesn’t win out. The truth … the promise of the Gospel … always does.
One thing we shouldn’t overlook is that this promise … this new covenant … is still present centuries after the king carved up and burned the scroll.
The message that the powers-that-be treated with distain wasn’t restricted to a piece of parchment … it was written elsewhere … in a place that has more permanence.
It was … and Is … written on our hearts.
And as we move into the season of Advent and its sense of hopeful anticipation … as we move through the waves of the Covid-19 pandemic … as colour codes change and our lives are remain flux … this is a promise that we need to remember … that we are called to affirm through our words of comfort and healing, through inclusive actions with those in the world around us.
It is a promise that offers light and hope to a darkened world.
It is a promise made … affirmed … kept … and shared.